Email Pitches From Public Relations Agency Go Plunk, Plunk Plunk Into The Night

Posted on July 22, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary | Tags: , , , , , , |

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a good reference piece about pitching stories into a highly competitive news media market Email pitches went unnoticed.

The writer – Alyson Shontell of Business Insider — indicates she deliberately ignored the 3 – count ’em, 3 – email pitches sent to inform her about a new Internet startup.

As it happened, the news about the launch of Rally.org would of interested Shontell. She might have written about the launch, had the PR firm — or more specifically, the “PR Lady” pitching the account for the firm — tailored its pitch to Shontell more adroitly.

Startups Clog The Email Pipeline

As Shontell tells it, she gets an “absurd amount” of email about startups daily. So to cut down on the information overload, she screens messages by looking first, to see if she knows the sender; secondly, by what’s in the title line; and thirdly, by what’s in the first sentence of the release as revealed by Gmail’s preview tool.

One of the pitches failed because the title line indicated the attached news was embargoed until a certain release date and time. No no no, Nanette or whatever the PR Lady’s actual name is, this didn’t work because Shontell doesn’t want to be treated like a commodity. She wants exclusives, like every other reporter! (It’s actually refreshing to hear a reporter say that’s how the game is played.)

Another pitch failed because of a weak title line, something about some company named Rally.org — not yet on the national business radar screen — pointing out a flaw in rival Kickstarter’s formula for social fundraising via an Internet-based technology platform.  Fair enough. Subtlety is not a virtue when pitching stories into the national media maw.

Stranger In A Strange Email Inbox

All of the pitches had one strike against them with this reporter by virtue of the fact that the sender was unknown to her. That’s an absurdly common problem in PR, since most PR practitioners, especially in agencies, deal with a wide variety of companies and industries and can’t know everybody who’s anybody in the news business – else why have media list services? It’s also a bit of a canard, and good PR people know it’s ultimately the newsworthiness of the pitch that will make or break the selling of the story to a reporter and his or her news organization. Shontell actually acknowledges this, noting it was obvious that the PR Lady did not know her – meaning she didn’t know what made Shontell’s news detector screen go on full alert.

How so? Because the pitch was not well-tailored enough to grab Shontell’s attention. The news, the really interesting part of the news, as she notes, was buried in the news release somewhere (the really interesting news was that some big nationally known investors were backing this unknown company). Use of those names as calling cards in the title line of the email or at least in the lede sentence, would have piqued Shontell’s interest and caused her to read on — because she knew those investors’ names, had probably written about other investments they had made (something that the PR person could have discovered in advance) and so was inclined to grant the all-important credibility factor to any startup company backed by such financial luminaries.

Hold That Cursor, There’s More To The Story

Shontell seems to be just telling it like is is. As a reporter for a digitally based, breaking news-focused business news site, she probably has little time for idle chit-chat or investigating every little news release that comes  her way.

Exclusive angles, sharply written title lines in emails, powerful lead sentences, and an approach hand-tailored to each reporter and outlet – especially the majors, however that is defined on an individual client basis — all are important considerations. None of this is to say that Atomic PR failed its client, Rally.org, in getting news out about the startup. Shontell only thought to write about what went wrong with the pitches that the PR agency sent her way after seeing news about Rally.org elsewhere. Something must have gone right for the PR Lady.

More to the point, Shontell provides a warts-and-all look at what it takes to separate the wheat from the chaff in email pitching. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just about who the public relations practitioner knows in the media world but what the PR pro knows about crafting messages that attract media attention. Why warts-and-all? Shontell’s anatomy of why she missed the Rally.org story has a bit of a mea culpa feel to it as well. She did miss the Rally.org story, after all – while others got it.

A followup telephone call might have helped clarify things, but it’s not clear whether that’s even an option in this case.

PR people continually face the obstacle of getting past the various shields that people in the media put up to keep from becoming paralyzed by info overload. It’s a never-ending job. Every reporter is different. As Shontell suggests, it’s the PR person’s job to get to know them.

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